What is Serialized Fiction?
Serialized fiction is any story that releases in installments, rather than all at once. It's like a TV show instead of a movie. Most serialized fiction is an already (or mostly) complete story, vs. serial fiction which is a story the author is writing as they release, often integrating reader's suggestions. The terms tend to be used interchangeably, but technically, this is a serialized novel. While I love hearing reader's ideas, it may be hard to incorporate them into an already-planned novel. Still, if you have an idea, I'd love to hear it. It might be just what the story needs.
A Gilded Age Experience
Imagine coming home from a long day of work at the shoe polish factory (or perhaps you work as a clerk or a seamstress). You climb the two flights of stairs in your tenement: you live in one that overlooks the river and it's small, but clean and homey. The rest of the family is home already, and a pot of hearty soup is boiling on the stove in the corner. You collapse onto the seat by the window and watch the smoke billowing from the factory a half a mile away while the youngest sets the table. You tap your foot, impatient for dinner. Not for food itself, though.
After a quick blessing, the oldest opens a tattered paper with measured reverence. A hush settles on the room. No one touches their dinner. They've been waiting all week to know what happens. The next installment has just released...
A Rich History & Exciting Future
In the 1800's, you could find the latest installment of Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo in the Journal des Débats, and the most recent chapter of Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days in Le Temps. All the big authors were publishing serialized fiction: Thackery, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Stevenson, Conan Doyle, and many more. Publishers liked the format for several reason, ranging from the appeal of trial-running a story before committing to a publishing run, to hooking readers into a long serial that drew in a larger audience than those who could afford to buy an entire book.
Charles Dickens is often credited as starting the serial frenzy with his Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (1836-1837), though the form certainly existed before him. Throughout the 19th century, serialized novels were hugely popular, and if you've heard of a famous author from that time period, chances are they published at least some of their work in serial format. The trend that started in Europe moved over to America, where books like Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe and Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain were published in magazines and periodicals.
In the early 20th century, book production became much cheaper and easier, negating the need to publish stories in periodicals to cut costs. New mediums of day-to-day entertainment emerged like radio broadcasting and television, and slowly pushed serialized novels out the window. Hard copy novels became the standard of published writing and soon, it became the golden standard to the point people forgot about any other way of doing things.
Enter the rise of the internet and our modern short attention spans. Maybe it wasn't profitable before to run a long serialized novel, but now it's easier than ever. Without the cost of printing, publishing a serial is as easy as uploading it to the web. Well, maybe not that easy, but sites like Wattpad made an easy platform for readers and writers alike to share and consume stories, often published piece by piece. As the new online-novel format grew, other platforms saw the potential. Now there are dozens of websites to read or publish serial fiction, along with ways for authors to monetize their work. Amazon recently developed a section of Kindle called Kindle Vella designed specifically for the serial novel format, and other platforms like Royale Road or Radish are well known as dedicated sites for serial fiction.
Serialized fiction may have died out for a little while, but it's not likely to ever die out completely. In fact, this could be the beginning of a new era in publishing. Only time will tell where the serial novel will go next.